Evanston Audiology - Evanston, IL

Woman recovers her hearing after an ear infection and listens to her grandaughter whisper something in her ear.

What is typically referred to as an ear infection, is medically called otitis media or AOM. Ear infections like this are often found in infants and young kids but they can affect adults, as well, especially during or after a cold or sinus infection. If you have a bad tooth, that can also lead to an ear infection.

Hearing loss is one of the major symptoms of an infection in the middle ear. But is it going to last forever? The answer to this question might be more challenging than you think. There are a lot of things happening with ear infections. To understand the risks, you need to learn more about the damage these infections can cause and how they impact hearing.

Otitus Media, What is it?

Otitus media is an infection of the middle ear to put it simply. It could possibly be any kind of microorganism causing the infection however bacteria is the most common.

It’s what part of the ear that the infection develops in that identifies it. When the infection is in the pinna, or outer ear, or in front of the eardrum, the condition is known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. The term labyrinthitis is the term for an infection of the cochlea or inner ear.

The area behind the eardrum but in front of the cochlea is referred to as the middle ear. This area contains the three ossicles, or very small bones, that vibrate the membranes of the inner ear. The eardrum will often actually break as a result of the pressure from this kind of infection, which tends to be extremely painful. That pressure is also the reason why you don’t hear very well. The ear canal can be obstructed by infectious material that can then cause a loss of hearing.

The symptoms of a middle ear infection in an adult include:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing

For most people, hearing returns in time. The ear canal will open up and hearing will come back. This will only happen when the infection gets better. Sometimes there are complications, though.

Repeated Ear Infections

Ear infections affect most people at least once in their lifetime. Some people, however, will get ear infections again and again so they become chronic. Chronic ear infections can cause problems that mean a more considerable and maybe even permanent loss of hearing, especially if the problem is neglected.

Conductive Hearing Loss Caused by Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss. As a result, the sound waves going to the inner ear are not strong enough. By the time the sound reaches the tiny hairs in the inner ear, they are amplified by the elements of the ear canal and reach their maximum power. Sometimes things change along this route and the sound is not correctly amplified. This is known as conductive hearing loss.

Bacteria are very busy in your ear when you have an ear infection. The mechanisms that amplify sound waves are broken down and eaten by the bacteria. The damage is in most cases done to the tiny little bones and the eardrum. The bones are very delicate and it doesn’t take much to break them up. These bones will never grow back once they are gone. That’s permanent damage and your hearing won’t return on its own. In certain cases, surgeons can install prosthetic bones to restore hearing. The eardrum can repair itself but it may have scar tissue influencing its ability to move. This can also potentially be fixed with surgery.

This Permanent Hearing Loss Can be Avoided

It’s important to consult a doctor when you think you may have an ear infection. The sooner you get treatment, the better. Always have chronic ear infection checked out by a doctor. The more serious the infections you have, the more damage they will cause. Ear infections normally start with allergies, sinus infections, and colds so take measures to avoid them. It’s time to quit smoking because it leads to chronic respiratory issues which will, in turn, lead to ear infections.

If you are still having problems hearing after having an ear infection, see a doctor. It could be possible that you have some damage, but that is not the only thing that can cause conductive hearing loss. If it turns out it’s permanent, hearing aids can help you hear once again. You can schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to get more info on hearing aids.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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